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Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 16:31 UK
Scan pioneer seeks improvements

Sir Peter Mansfield has received a Millennium medal for his pioneering MRI work

More than three decades after helping invent the modern hospital scanner, a Nottingham based scientist is still working to improve it.

Professor Sir Peter Mansfield regularly works unpaid at the University of Nottingham to upgrade his MRI scanner.

They are much more powerful today than when they were invented in 1973. But they are very noisy and that can upset patients.

Professor Mansfield said: "I think we can get the noise level down a bit."

The Nottingham connection

Professor Sir Peter Mansfield was born in London before the Second World War. It was watching the first Doodlebug attacks on the capital that created an interest in rocket propulsion and led to a life-long career in science.

He left school at 15 with no "O" levels. His school careers' officer had laughed at his ambition to be a scientist and fixed him up with a job as a printer.

Professor Mansfield put himself through night school and went on to graduate with a first class degree in physics.

His pioneering research was carried out at the University of Nottingham in the 1970s where he became Emeritus Professor of Physics. The first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan was performed on himself as the guinea-pig and with next-of-kin on hand because of the risks involved.

The physicist used strong magnetic fields to create a three-dimensional image that allowed doctors to see the internal organs and other tissues of their patient.

MRI Scanner pioneer Sir Peter Mansfield
Sir Peter Mansfield has been recognised the world over for his work

Award winning

In 2003 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine at the age of 70.

At the time Professor Mansfield said: "It is, I suppose, every scientist's hope that one day they may be singled out for such an honour."

An MRI expert, Professor Mike Smith from Leeds University, said: "Without his contribution it is likely that some of these advances - which make MRI practical for a medical setting - would not have happened, or would have taken much longer to happen."

Today more than 60 million investigations using MRI scanners are performed worldwide each year.

Still working

Recalling those pioneering days, Professor Mansfield said: "It all started in a very small way and it took quite a few years to raise the money to buy a magnet.

"Our first magnet operated at 0.1 Tesla (unit of measurement used in MRI scanning). Now we're running at seven Tesla. So we're now 70 times the magnetic field strength that we used in the early days. It gives a sharper and clearer image but is very noisy."

It is that quest to make modern scanners less noisy that spurs Professor Mansfield on, even at the age of 76.

"The university (of Nottingham) allows me to continue working there. I don't get paid but we can continue to try ideas and one of them is to reduce the noise (of the MRI scanner).

"We're thinking about patient comfort."


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